Champions for Children – early intervention is critical

Special needs and early intervention in education has been topical recently. So I really appreciated the opportunity to visit the Champion Centre at Burwood Hospital last week to learn more about how it operates and its philosophy. The Champion Centre us New Zealand’s largest early intervention centre, serving nearly 160 children with disabilities between 0-6 years  and are internationally recognised for the quality of their work.

As someone who has had the benefit of significant intervention at different points in my life, I am very conscious of the fact that early intervention, if done well and by the appropriate specialists, can have a huge positive impact on outcomes for children later on.

There are many areas of a child’s physical, intellectual and social development, including speech and language –  that if they are not given scope to develop at an early age –  become increasingly difficult – if not impossible – to develop later on.

Each child with a disability will have different needs and will need different interventions. One will need a speech therapist trained to work with young children, another a psychologist. One a physiotherapist, another a specialist in early intervention teaching.

The Champion Centre provides a single point for parents to go with their child to access all the appropriate services their child needs. By involving the parents in their work, parents are empowered to learn and reinforce appropriate learning and development strategies at home, which greatly increases the effectiveness of any intervention strategy.

I know personally how important getting parents on board is. When I was a pre-schooler my mother and I were whisked off to a specialist centre. There, among other things, my mother was shown how to ensure I faced her whenever she was speaking to me so that I would learn how to lip read. I can remember how she used a dolls house to encourage me to speak through play and her commitment to my language development made a profound difference. I would not be where I am today without that, and I find it appalling that too many children today are missing out.

I was particularly dismayed that the Champion Centre currently only receives 64% of its funding from the Government and has to fundraise for the remaining $713,991 it needs to run its programmes. Overstretched parents and specialists should not be having to resort to washing cars to raise funds for such essential intervention. It is time for the National Government to stop taking such a miserly approach to some of our most vulnerable children and fully fund essential specialist services for children at all levels.

On the wall at the Champion Centre was a mural of people holding hands drawn by children. I would like to share their words with you:

 “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears. It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears. There’s so much that we share. It’s time we’re aware. It’s a small world after all.”